Business books are overrated: Here are the best novels for entrepreneurs

September 22, 2020

Fiction movies for entrepreneurs

I don’t know if it’s just me or it feels like the number of business books published has exponentially risen in recent years. Everybody seems to be an author these days. Frankly, I tried to find some statistics on this fact, but to no avail. Yet, I bet you feel the same way, so it must be true!

So, as a fiction lover myself, I became curious to find the best fiction books with unexpected business lessons. Because not all business lessons come in the obvious form, as you can see from our business movies list.

Since many entrepreneurs share the same view as me, it was easy to curate this list of the best books for entrepreneurs who prefer fiction over the self-help genre.

Jump directly to: 

 1. Noble House

 2. The Radical Leap

 3. The Count of Monte Cristo

 4. The Big Five For Life

 5. Dune

 6. Bleak House

 7. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

 8. Siddhartha

 9. The Space Merchants

 10. Animal Farm

 11. The Sialkot Saga

 12. The Stars Shine Down

 13. The Phoenix Project

 14. The Tortoise and the Hare

 15. The Giving Tree

 16. God Is an Englishman

Best novels for entrepreneurs who want to learn about business the unorthodox way

Surely there are thousands of other fiction books you can gain business knowledge from that didn’t end up on this list. Hence if you think you’ve read one of the best novels for entrepreneurs, feel free to propose it to us, and we’ll update the list.

Noble House by James Clavell

The entire Asian Saga by James Clavell is brilliant, and the last one is Noble Haus. (There are miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan available, too.)

The most important lesson it taught me is “Neng che to lao – An able man has many burdens. As I am abler than most, I have to sweat more than most.” 

Meaning that:

  1. The more ability you have, the more effort you need to put in order to make use of it; 
  2. You need to believe in your own abilities and strengths; 
  3. You should not be complaining when you have more on your plate than others, because that is for a reason.

It’s a great quote on what the right attitude in life and business should be.

Eva Dimitrova, Startup Consultant

The Radical Leap by Steve Farber

I found The Radical Leap by Steve Farber in an old box to be discarded from an apartment I shared with my ex. I’m so thankful it was left behind because the story and what I’ve learned from it will stick with me forever. 

It’s really an easy, short read about this California surfer dude who meets a very serious businessman along the beach. Their conversations are all about surfing and the ocean but – in a beautiful way it taught me everything I know about being a spectacular leader. The stories taught me that running a business should ultimately be by design. And that design should be free to change and go beyond usual constraints and be fueled by personal passion so that all those who follow me can do the same in their own lives and careers. 

Leadership is happiness. And whether we fail or win, we’ve got to be bold enough to work from extreme happiness. That’s the goal.

Cassady Dill, Director, Marketing for the Rich

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

In the Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes spent years rotting away in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When he finally got a chance to escape, he meticulously planned his getaway to give himself the best chance of success. At last, he was able to flee and eventually live an opulent life. 

Oftentimes, when we find ourselves toiling on our business with little to no reward to show for it, we struggle to maintain hope that things will get better. Dantes shows us to make the most of every chance you’re given and to never give up hope.

James Major, Founder of Insurance Panda

The Big Five For Life by John P. Strelecky

My favourite business book, among many that guide us for leadership skills, is a novel: The Big Five For Life. John P. Strelecky is able to make us see and feel the benefits of working in a company whose goals are aligned with our personal Purpose. Everyone would stop fighting an internal battle between work and life. And it’s our role, as entrepreneurs, to create the conditions and the environment so that our teams get paid for what fulfils them, obtaining in return lower turnover rates, better productivity and more profits. It should be a mandatory read for all leaders.

Giulio Zecca, Founder of innovAchievers

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune is about Paul Atreides, the eldest son of a feudal lord in a time where fiefs travel and battle from planet to planet. Paul finds himself on a desert planet and allies himself with the natives of the planets, the Fremen, who teach him their ways and eventually aid them in controlling the plane, thereby controlling melange, aka “spice”, a valuable substance that is key to space travel. 

This novel teaches us the importance of strategic partnerships and how they can propel us into new areas through their connections and industry understandings. Every business leader needs to find the Fremen who can help them break into critical enterprises and verticals.

Drew Falkman, Director at Modus Create

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I choose Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, published in 1853. The book is about generations of a family that are trapped in and bedevilled by endless legal proceedings, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. People are born into the case, relatives die, yet the endless case drags on.

Eventually, after 100 years or so, the case is closed. Why? Because the estate paid so much in legal fees all the money from the inheritance is gone.

Lesson learned: legal proceedings are time-consuming and prohibitive and should be a last resort. Try to solve disputes in other ways, if possible. It may even be cheaper to walk away and move on.

Sharon Geltner, President of Froogle PR

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

This is a beloved children’s book where a small mouse is given a cookie. Then, he quickly asks for a glass of milk, a straw to drink the milk, a napkin to wipe himself down, and a bevy of additional requests related to, and unrelated to, the original cookie request. The little boy that gives the mouse everything he needs is patient, kind, and understanding. 

This story is a great lesson in customer service. Think about how you can meet the needs of a customer, no matter how many requests they have or how long it takes. Work to fulfil them until they are like the mouse at the end of the book — completely satisfied with their experience. 

Deborah Sweeney, CEO at MyCorporation

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha is a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse that taught me about the importance of developing a personal moral code. Owning a small business has put all of my principles to the test – how to deal with adversity, how to stay present, how to appreciate success, how to treat others, how to rise above the temptation to cut corners and remain true to your vision. 

If you are going to be an entrepreneur, read this book. It will help you to develop a moral compass and remain true it no matter what happens.

Nick Standlea, CEO at Test Prep Gurus

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

The world is in a total mess and dominated by large corporations specifically ad agencies. Despite its dystopian setting, this book speaks the truth behind consumerism. Pohl and Kornbluth brilliantly emphasized the power of advertising and how people are strongly driven by materialism. 

As an entrepreneur, it will remind you that the business industry is survival of the fittest. If you don’t equip yourself with the best skills and knowledge, you will be drowned in the fierce competition. Thus, don’t allow yourself to be weak. You must be wise and strong to survive.

Karl Armstrong, Founder of EpicWin App

Animal Farm by George Orwell

A fiction book that has taught me some powerful lessons in business leadership is Animal Farm by George Orwell. In the book, once the pig had overthrown the humans they pointed out all the bad things that the humans had done. They even came up with a set of commandments that stood against everything humans were for. However, as the story progressed, the pigs themselves got the taste of being ‘above’ the other animals and eventually started to live like humans, ultimately becoming everything they hated.

In an organization, this situation is extremely common. The intent of leadership always starts off treating everyone equally but this can change as a company grows and revenue increases. Priorities change and leaders neglect the foundations of the company. Therefore, as a business leader, one must never lose sight of the vision of the company. Lead by example and uphold the fundamentals that the company was built on.

Albert Lee, Founder of Home Living Lab

The Sialkot Saga by Ashwin Sangh

Ashwin Sanghi’s The Sialkot Saga is definitely one-of-a-kind business thriller and page-turner book. Arvin and Arbaaz, both brilliant and cunning businessmen are competing against each other. Being at each other’s throat, their dispute is deeply rooted in the history that they must unfold. 

My key takeaway from this book is that competition in business is normal. However, as a leader and entrepreneur, you must look beyond rivalry. Because those who you are competing with can help you and can give you a hand towards success if you let them. Not just in business but in personal life as well.

James Pearson, CEO of eVenturing Enterprises

The Stars Shine Down by Sidney Sheldon

The greatest lesson that can be learned from there though, is that in business, you shouldn’t trust anyone completely even when they seem to be nice to you. There are people who have hidden agendas and they just want to get close to you so that they can take advantage of you. You should be vigilant and always look out for yourself, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to personal life, only in business, mostly.

Sonya Schwartz, Founder of Her Norm

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr

The Phoenix Project is a story of how a troubled automotive company got back on track following a monumental turn around of a key project by their technology department. In the pivotal chapter, the lead character was reminded of an important thought from the Theory of Constraints: any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion. 

I have always applied this concept to my business whenever I’m faced with challenges. I look for the bottleneck and focus all our resources to resolve this issue before moving on with any other improvements.

Fred Blair, Founder of awesomehoops

The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop

Business growth is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to practice and practice and put things in place to succeed. The business lesson it taught me was that slow and steady wins the long term race.

Yes, we could do 1,000 marketing videos a month – but we would crash. I’d rather scale slow, put processes in place and delegate right. It made me a better entrepreneur by realizing I have to develop my team monthly and always check in on our written processes.

Trevor Rappleye, CEO at  CorporateFilming

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The Giving Tree tells the story of a boy and a tree. Whatever the boy wants from the tree, the tree gladly gives, from shelter, apples to sell, branches to warm his home, and ultimately its tree trunk to build a boat. 

As entrepreneurs, we often fail to establish the boundaries necessary to replenish ourselves so that we can continue to serve our clients to the fullest. This ultimately will lead to a tree with no more tree to give.

Melanie Fine, Owner of MelanieFine

God Is an Englishman (Swann Family Saga) by R.F. Delderfield

A favourite book of fiction that taught me some great business lessons was God Is an Englishman (Swann Family Saga) by R.F. Delderfield (1912 – 1972). The main character, Adam Swann, starts a carting business in 1860 during the growth of railroads in England. 

A few lessons: 

  1. Trust your gut; value your ideas and be careful about letting others overly influence you
  2. Treat your staff as you would like to be treated. 
  3. Find a way (or a place) to work where you are not interrupted and allow yourself to think deeply about the challenges you are confronting.

Laura Hart, CEO & Founder of Robofun

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